Neil deGrasse Tyson: Facing the Ultimate Frontier

America needs a new advocate for space, one with the charisma, gravitas, and demeanor of Carl Sagan.  That advocate is Dr Neil deGrasse Tysson.  We both grew up in the Bronx: he went to the Bronx HS of Science, I went to De Witt Clinton down the block.  The smarter kids went to Science.  My school had 5000 kids so Clinton had honors classes for experimental biology, creative writing, and honors math and physics.  Clinton was Science’s farm team.  Some of the Clinton’s students were on track to Sing-Sing, New York’s upriver prison.  
Many from Clinton succeeded  as well as the guys at Science.  But Neil went to Cornell and I went to City College.  We never met, I was 14 years older and we sent to different schools.  So I can vouch for him on the basis of coming from the same hood: the Bronx.
Today’s issues are many and space exploration is one of them.  We went to the moon for the first time in the since wax wings were crafted by Daedalus and they worked so well that he flew so close to the Sun and the wax melted.  
Not since then had man flown so high, never before had technology advance so fast and spun off innumerable inventions to be adopted by the civilian society that eventually produced the transistor radio, personal computer,  the internet, the space shuttle, and the IPAD.
Whatever the cost of putting a man on the moon was, the fallout was a cornucopia of technology.  When I was a young engineer LEDs used a lot of current so we switched to liquid panel and neon display bulbs.  Today I have a flashlight on my key chain about the size of a stick of gum with a LED powered by battery the size of a dime.  
The technical advances given us by space research allow us to have the world we live in.  Can we afford to go further into space?  The return on investment gained by going to the moon has changed our lives in so many ways.  Can we afford NOT to continue to invest in space.  I think not.  Government investment in large research programs has spin offs far greater than simply getting to the moon.  Carlos 
‘Space Chronicles’: Why Exploring Space Still Matters
 Neil deGrasse Tyson, February 27, 2012

After decades of global dominance, America’s space shuttle program ended last summer while countries like Russia, China and India continue to advance their programs. But astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, author of the new book Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier, says America’s space program is at a critical moment. He thinks it’s time for America to invest heavily in space exploration and research.
“Space exploration is a force of nature unto itself that no other force in society can rival,” Tyson tells NPR’s David Greene. “Not only does that get people interested in sciences and all the related fields, [but] it transforms the culture into one that values science and technology, andthat’s the culture that innovates,” Tyson says. “And in the 21st century, innovations in science and technology are the foundations of tomorrow’s economy.”

He sees this “force of nature” firsthand when he goes to student classrooms. “I could stand in front of eighth-graders and say, ‘Who wants to be an aerospace engineer so you can design an airplane 20 percent more fuel-efficient than the one your parents flew?’ ” Tyson says. “That doesn’t usually work. But if I say, ‘Who wants to be an aerospace engineer to design the airplane that will navigate the rarefied atmosphere of Mars?’ because that’s where we’re going next, I’m getting the best students in the class. I’m looking for life on Mars? I’m getting the best biologist. I want to study the rocks on Mars? I’m getting the best geologists.”

But spending for space programs isn’t where Tyson would like it to be. In just one year, Tyson says, the expenditure of the U.S.’s military budget is equivalent to NASA’s entire 50-year running budget.

“I think if you double [the budget], to a penny on the dollar, that’s enough to take us in bold visions in a shorter time scale to Mars, visit asteroids, to study the status of all the planets,” he says. On Venus, for example, scientists have observed a “runaway greenhouse effect,” Tyson says. “I kind of want to know what happened there, because we’re twirling knobs here on Earth without knowing the consequences of it.”

Today, Mars is bone-dry; it once had running water. “Something bad happened there as well,” he says. “Asteroids have us in our sight. The dinosaurs didn’t have a space program, so they’re not here to talk about this problem. We are, and we have the power to do something about it. I don’t want to be the embarrassment of the galaxy, to have had the power to deflect an asteroid, and then not, and end up going extinct. We’d be the laughing stock of the aliens of the cosmos if that were the case.”

The possibility of asteroids hitting Earth is actually a reasonably serious problem that does need a solution, Tyson contends. The asteroid Apophis, named for the Egyptian god of death and darkness, has a very slim chance of striking Earth in 2036. Tyson says some researchers have advocated for blowing up the football stadium-sized object.

That could create a bigger problem, though: “If you blow it up and it becomes two pieces, and now one is aimed for each coast of the United States, it’s just doubled the emergency status of that call,” he says.

Another option is what he calls a “gravitational tractor beam.” A space probe would be parked a fixed distance away from the asteroid. Gravity would tend to pull the objects together, but by firing rockets on the probe, the asteroid would actually be “towed” away.

Tyson admits that such a space tow truck would be a tough sell for a president asking for more money for NASA.

He proposes this tack: “What [the president] needs to say is, ‘We need to double NASA’s budget because not only is it the grandest epic adventure a human being can undertake, not only would the people who led this adventure be the ones we end up building statues to and naming high schools after and becoming the next generation’s Mercury 7 as role models, not only will there be spinoff products from these discoveries, but what’s more important than all of those, what’s more practical than all of those, is that he will transform the economy into one that will lead the world once again rather than trail the world as we are inevitably going to be doing over the next decade.’ ”

About carlos

I'm a curious person, of reasonable intellect, "on the beach" (retired) and enjoying my interest in anthropology, language, civil rights, and a few other areas. I've been a hippie/student/aerospace tech writer in the '60s, a witness to the Portuguese revolution in the ‘70s, a defense test engineer and witness to the Guatemalan genocide in the '80s, and a network engineer for an ISP in the '90s. Now I’m a student and commentator until my time is up. I've spent time under the spell of the Mesoamerican pyramids and the sweet sound of the Portuguese language. I've lived in Europe, traveled in Brazil, Central America, Iceland, New Zealand, and other places. My preferred mode of travel is with a backpack and I eat (almost) anything local. Somehow, many of the countries I have been to have had civil unrest (for which I was not responsible). I'm open to correspond with anyone who might share my liberal, humanist interests. I live in San Buenaventura, California.
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